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Monday, February 06, 2017

Careful When You Drag Beer Into Politics

Last week, I noted that AB InBev's Super Bowl ad contained a certain political valence. I wasn't the only one to notice. After the ad aired, it sparked an online effort to #BoycottBudweiser, along with all the usual overheated rhetoric you get with modern politics. (Amusingly, half the people protesting the ad spelled the brewery's name wrong; they probably should have just gone with "BoycottBud.")

The ad was the highest-profile of a raft of similar ads that either implicitly or explicitly promoted immigrants and/or multiculturalism. (A constant feature in advertising for decades, this only looked political because Trump was elected on an anti-immigrant platform.) All of which is perfectly predictable.

A more interesting wrinkle in the story comes via the Weekly Standard, a longtime organ of the neocon right. Today Charlotte Allen writes her own take on the ad, and it's a fascinating inversion of the populism typical of the right. She quotes from a listicle detailing the worst-rated beers on BeerAdvocate and RateBeer, which is studded with ABI products.
How about Busch Light? Oh, and also Bud Light. And Busch Beer. And Bud Ice (not to be confused with Natural Ice). And Budweiser Chelada (how many of those undrinkable products are there?). All at the top of the ghastly list. Even plain old Budweiser, which isn't too awful if you're stuck somewhere with a limited dive-bar menu, doesn't rank very high.
So I ask: Are these really the kind of immigrants we want to let into our country?
Neener, neener, ABI is liberal and it's tres déclassé, darling. But this is all counter-message. Trump's followers are proud of their working-class identity, and that fits in perfectly with Bud's range of products. It's craft beer, like everything scented of hipsterism, that should be suspect. Beer is a potent and emotional product, but if you don't understand its symbolism, best to keep the politics out of things. Yet another example of how politics has crossed into the beer world, however ineptly.

(To further confound things, let's note that Obama was a beer drinker, though mostly a mass-market lager man, and Trump is a teetotaler. Meanwhile, over a third of the members of the Senate and House are in the small brewers caucus. The lines are so confusing!)


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  2. To paint with a broad brush; Craft beer drinkers skew liberal and despise Budweiser with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, while Bud drinkers skew conservative and dislike immigrants. There's no commercial on the planet that is going to make more craft beer drinkers embrace Bud, so the only real effect it can have is to drive away Budweiser's core audience.

  3. But it isn't simply that Budweiser is internationally owned; they are a truly international product now, and I'd imagine their overseas sales account for quite a big part of their margins, and perhaps this is the long game they're playing. Can't find exact numbers (granted I did not look that hard), but for example, it was the official beer sponsor of the World Cup, and I believe the only beer sold at those events. They have breweries in many other countries to supply Bud to those markets (i.e. South Africa, Brazil, Mexico) and are making aggressive plays there. So their distancing from Trump is actually a wise move for their image in those markets, even if in the short term they catch some blowback from their core audience at "home."

    But also, as this ad was run during the superbowl, which is as 'murica as can get, perhaps even they feel some moral imperative here. Or at the very least and most cynical, feel some marketing benefit in distancing themselves from the sinking ship of Trump and his approval ratings. Again, perhaps this is a long game. I mean, they called themselves "America" after all, so it behooves them to define what their "America" is. And we're talking about it now, so I guess it worked.

  4. Also note that they understand demographics in America, too. Trying to appeal to a broad demographic is just good business.